II. THE WORK AND THE MEETINGS
When there is no believer in a locality, God’s workers work to lead men to salvation. After some are saved, there is a church in that place. Before the church is fully established, the affairs of the church are temporarily in the hands of the workers. This is according to the Bible. However, having the affairs of a church in the hands of the workers for an extended period of time is something that is not found in the Bible. The workers should not manage a local church. Rather, the workers should manage their own work. When the church is not yet established, they can manage it since it can be considered as their work. Once it is established, however, the responsibility of the church is upon the believers of that locality and no longer on the workers.
We have previously spoken on the difference between the work and the meetings. In the Bible study meeting last November, we spent two evenings to mention the difference between the work and the church. The work is the responsibility of the workers, while the meetings are the responsibility of all the Christians in that locality. The difference between the work and the meetings is the same as the difference between a shop and the church in your locality. I have to ask you, "Who is the `preacher,’ in the meeting at Hardoon Road?" You should answer, "No one." This is like someone asking you who is the physician or tailor in the meetings at Hardoon Road; you would answer, "No one." There is no "pastor" in the meeting; there are only brothers and sisters in the meetings. There is no need of workers as such in the meetings just as there is no need of physicians and tailors as such in the meetings. So, if someone asks you who is the "preacher" in the meeting at Hardoon Road, and if you say, "Mr. Nee," I will be the first one to deny this. If I asked the believers at Ephesus, "Who is your apostle at Ephesus?" they would say, "We do not have our own apostle. However, there was an apostle Paul who once spent three years among us." Was there a local apostle in the church at Ephesus? No. Therefore, we also do not have local preachers. If we were to ask the believers at Ephesus, "Do you have pastors?" they would say, "No. However, at times, there are pastors, apostles, and prophets coming to work in our midst."
God gives apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to His universal church. However, the church in a locality does not have apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. These five classes of men are found only in God’s work. In God’s work there are workers: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Yet in the local church, there are no such people. In Roman Catholicism there is a distinction between the priests and the common believers. In Christianity there is a distinction between the pastors and the common believers. This is the teaching of the Nicolaitans, which the Lord hates. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are God’s workers. In the meetings, at the time of remembering the Lord, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are merely brothers and sisters; they are the same as the rest of the believers. We should not think, "We should not open our mouths to pray and teach in the Lord’s Day meeting. It is for the workers to pray and minister the word."
What kind of relationship is there between the workers and the church? Each worker bears his own responsibility to God’s work. The workers can help the church and help the believers; the church can also help their work and help them individually, whether in prayer or in material supply. However, their work is their own responsibility, while the affairs of the meetings are the responsibility of the whole body of believers. This is the difference between the work and the church. Just as we cannot say that a brother is the tailor of our church because he is a tailor, we also cannot say that a worker of God is a worker of our church because this worker of God is in our meetings.
Is there any relationship between the workers and the church? There certainly is! A worker bears no special relationship with the church as far as his qualifications as a worker are concerned. Yet a worker can help a church based on his qualification as a brother. Furthermore, since the work that a worker does is specifically for God, the whole church should render special cooperation and special help to the work.
Having said this, to help my co-workers let me mention again the difference between the work and the meetings. We have already seen that there is no distinction of class in the church of God. However, it is different in the work of God. Being in the work is not the same as being in the church where everyone is equal. This is why we see that Timothy, Titus, and Mark worked with Paul; yet at times Paul would send them. In the work of God, we can easily see that Paul bore a little more responsibility than his co-workers. Not only is this true in spiritual work, it is also true in secular work. In a hospital, a shop, or a school, there are those who bear the main responsibilities, and there are those who are the helpers. If everyone bears the same responsibility, there will be great confusion. Nevertheless, we have to say that the work of God as it is currently organized by men, with all of its decorations, elections, and positions, is very different from the biblical practice. According to the Bible, we do not find such things as elections and the titles of "leaders" and "members" even though the ones who are more advanced spiritually will spontaneously bear a little more responsibility.
Consider Mr. Müller, who was perhaps the greatest man of faith in the last century. Some who knew him told us that when he was in the meetings in Bristol, he would purposely sit on the back row during the meetings because he was afraid that people would think only those of his age and spirituality could open their mouth. He wanted to save some opportunity for the young believers to speak. However, we also know that Mr. Müller managed an orphanage. This was a work he did for God. How did he work? He bore the entire responsibility for it. Whether it was building, buying or selling, or other matters, he was the one who bore the entire responsibility. There were a number of brothers and sisters co-working with him, but they all bore only their share of responsibilities. They worked together, but the responsibilities were not the same.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 17: Notes on Scriptural Messages (1), Chapter 22, by Watchman Nee)